Chapter One Pigs don't just vanish, thought George as he stood staring into the depthsof the very obviously empty pigsty. He tried closing his eyes and thenopening them again, to see if it was all some kind of horrible opticalillusion. But when he looked again, the pig was still gone, his vast muddypink bulk nowhere to be seen. In fact, when George examined the situationfor a second time, it had gotten worse, not better. The side door of thepigsty, he noticed, was hanging open, which meant someone hadn't shut itproperly. And that someone was probably him. "Georgie!" he heard his mother call from the kitchen. "I'm going to startsupper in a minute, so you've only got about an hour. Have you done yourhomework?" "Yes, Mom," he called back in a fake cheery voice. "How's your pig?" "He's fine! Fine!" said George squeakily. He threw in a few experimentaloinks, just to make it sound as though everything was business as usual,here in the small backyard that was full of many, many vegetables and oneenormous -- but now mysteriously absent -- pig. He grunted a few moretimes for effect -- it was very important his mother did not come out intothe garden before George had time to think up a plan. How he was going tofind the pig, put it back in the sty, close the door, and get back in timefor supper, he had no idea. But he was working on it, and the last thinghe needed was for one of his parents to appear before he had all theanswers. George knew the pig was not exactly popular with his parents. His motherand father had never wanted apig in the backyard, and his dad inparticular tended to grind his teeth quite hard when he remembered wholived beyond the vegetable patch. The pig had been a present: One coldChristmas Eve a few years back, a cardboard box full of squeaks andsnuffles had been delivered to their front door. When George opened it up,he found a very indignant pink piglet inside. George lifted him carefullyout of thebox and watched with delight as his new friend skidded aroundthe Christmas tree on his tiny hooflets. There had been a note taped tothe box.Dear all!it read.Merry Christmas! This little fellowneeds a home -- can you give him one? Love, Grandma xxx. George's dad hadn't been delighted by the new addition to his family. Justbecause he was a vegetarian, it didn't mean he liked animals. Actually, hepreferred plants. They were much easier to deal with: They didn't make amess or leave muddy hoofprints on the kitchen floor or break in and eatall the cookies left out on the table. But George was thrilled to have hisvery own pig. The presents he'd received from his mom and dad that yearwere, as usual, pretty awful. The home-knitted purple-and-orange stripedsweater from his mom had sleeves that stretched right down to the floor; hehad never wanted a xylophone, and he had a hard time looking enthusiasticwhen he unwrapped a build-your-own ant farm. What George really wanted -- above all things in the Universe -- was acomputer. But he knew his parents were very unlikely to buy him one. Theydidn't like modern inventions and tried to do without as many standardhousehold items as they could. Wanting to live a purer, simpler life, theywashed all their clothes by hand and didn't own a car and lit the housewith candles in order to avoid using any electricity. It was all designed to give George a natural and improving upbringing,free from toxins, additives, radiation, and other such evil phenomena. Theonly problem was that in getting rid of everything that could possiblyharm George, his parents had managed to do away with lots of things thatwould also be fun for him. George's parents might enjoy going onenvironmental protest marches or grinding flour to make their own bread,but George didn't.Hawking, Stephen W. is the author of 'George's Secret Key to the Universe ', published 2007 under ISBN 9781416954620 and ISBN 1416954627.